The "from name" (also referred to as the "from line," "sender name" or "sender line") has always played an important role in email marketing, but market realities are making the right choice even more critical to subscriber engagement.
Email subscribers have always used the "from name" not just to identify who sent the message, but also to answer these questions: "Do I trust this email? Do I want to invest time on the message?" A quickly recognized "from name" has also long helped subscribers find your email when it lands in their junk folder or spam filter system.
Mobile, Differentiation and Social Sharing
The nature of the inbox itself, and how email is being used, have added three more reasons the decision over which name to use in the "from name" is not to be taken lightly.
1. Differentiation: The "from name" puts the subject line and preview-pane content in perspective, quickly differentiating Store A's "free shipping and 20% off" email from Store B's. Especially at this time of year, when almost every ecommerce email subject line includes some variation of "Today Only – Free Shipping + 20% Off All Orders," the "from name" is critical to getting subscribers to notice, open and act on your messages.
2. Mobile: Many email subscribers now "triage" their inboxes with their mobile devices, using the "from line" to help decide which emails to read or delete right away and which to view later on a larger screen.
The smaller real estate on a mobile screen usually offers less information to work with. On my BlackBerry, for example, there are between 8 and 12 characters (depends on capitalization, spacing and which characters used) available for the "from name." This compares to approximately 20 to 25 available characters in the standard Gmail interface.
My personal sender name (Loren McDonald) appears as "Loren Mc…," and The Wall Street Journal appears as "The Wall…" in my BlackBerry's inbox.
3. Social Sharing: A distinctive "from name" also helps with the growing practice of sharing emails on social networks and on Twitter. The more recognizable the "from name" among those people who aren't subscribers, the more likely they will act on your shared email.
Personality Begins in the Message
With the explosion and adoption of social media, using personality in communications is becoming increasingly important. Using a person's name in the "from name" to make your emails appear more friendly and personable, however, is probably a wrong-headed approach. Achieve this goal with your email content rather than the inbox appearance.
Establish a consistent voice such as a specific person as the editor, who can speak directly to subscribers, incorporating his/her voice and personality. Have the person "sign" the email and provide contact information so people can communicate directly. But that person's name probably should not be the "from name."
If both new and old subscribers aren't likely to recognize the name you want to use in your "from name," don't use it. Stick with a logical brand name that most would recognize and trust, especially new or low-engagement subscribers.
If You Insist, Do It Right
If you're determined to use an individual's name, however, use it with all the messages you send for that email program.
Don't do what one well-known Webinar company does. It uses one person's name for Webinar invites, another person's name for reminders and then the name of a sales rep for follow-up emails. Don't expect your readers to remember which company employs all of these people.
As with all rules in email marketing, exceptions always exist. If you've tested using "John Smith" against your brand or sub-brand name – with old and new subscribers alike - and the individual name wins, then by all means, stick with it. Just make sure you use your key output metrics, such as conversions, not just open rates to determine the winning approach.
Should you decide to switch from a person's name to a company brand name, try a split mailing for a few messages and measure its impact. Long-time subscribers might have become accustomed to the individual's name.
Tell subscribers about the change beforehand, and ask them to add the new "from name" to their address book/safe-senders' list.
While you continually test different subject line approaches and agonize over the right length, don't lose sight of how important a role the "from name" also plays in your email success.